In 1792, the first bishop of the United States, John Carroll, dedicated the newly formed nation to the patronage of the Virgin Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception, a patronage which continues until this day. It's fitting, therefore, that our nation's capital contains the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a large and very beautifully decorated church dedicated to Our Lady. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Washington DC, I highly recommend taking several hours and visiting this beautiful shrine. Along the sides of both the main upper church and the basement are over 70 chapels dedicated to honoring Our Lady in her various titles.
With all the images of Our Lady that are present in this shrine, it's striking that the most noticeable image which a visitor sees upon entering the upper church is a large mosaic of Our Lord in the dome over the main altar. While it may seem out of place in this shrine dedicated to Our Lady, it is the exact point of both the shrine and the feast we celebrate today: through the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we see the saving grace of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross.
When the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, then a young woman living in Nazareth, he had been sent to present to her the news that she was to become the mother of the savior of the world. While God the Father had chosen Mary to be the mother of His Son, He respected her free will enough to give her the opportunity to accept or reject His divine will. Her acceptance of God's will meant that His plan of salvation could go forward. To prepare Mary for her role as mother of the second person of the Trinity, God was able to apply the effects of Jesus' death on the Cross to her from the first moment of her existence. Before she could bear the fully-divine, fully-human Son of God, she had to be made pure with no stain of sin.
Those of us who have been baptized have received this same gift of Christ's salvation, but we are still affected by the stain of sin on our souls. We are still tempted by sin, and we still fall into sinful behaviors. The Blessed Virgin Mary is held up as the example of what we hope to be one day. As St. Paul tells us in the second reading, we have been chosen in Christ “to be holy and without blemish before Him.” All of us who remain in unity with Our Lord will one day have the stain of sin washed away for good, and will be as pure and spotless as Our Lady. We look forward to that day when we will be able to stand before Our Lord and His mother washed clean from sin. Until then, we ask Mary to intercede on our behalf to her son in order to prepare us for that day when we will see him face to face.
Mary, the Immaculate Conception, pray for us!